Manchester United’s deadline day swoop for Falcao caused a furor amongst fans last week but is it their other late acquisition, Daley Blind who will prove the key this season? The deal for the Dutchman was announced an hour before the deadline, his arrival was actually confirmed by Ajax before United but hopefully this low key entrance doesn’t foreshadow the season to come.
Blind has been dismissed as no more than a utility-man by some. Paul Scholes recently said the player is “not strong enough for a left-back in England”, incidentally the very position he played under Louis van Gaal for the Netherlands in the World Cup. However, with United strengthening their left-hand side with both Luke Shaw and Marcos Rojo it seems unlikely Blind was signed for that purpose. At Ajax last season a shift from left-back to defensive midfielder led to Blind picking up the Eredivisie Player of the Year award.
With a fantastic ability to drop between the lines of defence and midfield, plus the legs to cover positions out wide Blind makes a very capable option to play holding midfield in Van Gaal’s side. It is no secret the United defence has vulnerabilities, the current 3-5-2 system theoretically allows for an extra man at the back to counter-balance any issues. Nonetheless even if the mooted change to 4-3-3 happens it is probable the holding midfielder would be required to drop back and help out the centre-backs. This then allows the full-backs to come forward and create space in the middle, one of the two remaining midfield players would then drag their marker and show for a pass, something we’ve been surprisingly ineffective at using the current formation.
Alongside defensive duties Blind is also capable of building play and orchestrating attacking moves. Fantastic vision, as highlighted by his assist for Robin van Persie’s header against Spain, means Blind can get on the ball and look up for a pass. With Van Persie, Wayne Rooney, Falcao and Angel Di Maria all occupying attacking positions he’s sure to have plenty of options in the final third. In Holland’s friendly against Italy, starting at left-back and later switching to midfield, Blind played the most long balls of anyone on the pitch, often searching out his new team-mate. While it didn’t come off for him that night the foundations are there for a fruitful relationship at Manchester United.
Versatility can be both a blessing and a curse, the ability to play in numerous positions can be beneficial, cover for injuries and opportunities to change formation during a game means a utility player’s inclusion is useful. On the other hand, these players are often only back-up and used sparing when a first choice XI is available. Blind is going to have to set out to dispel this assumption quickly if he is to be a success at United. With Michael Carrick out injured and a distinct lack of grit in the middle the chance to cement a place in the first team may never come easier to the 24-year-old.
For all the talk of ‘philosophy’ over pre-season, if there truly is to be one, no-one will understand it better than Daley Blind. A product of the famed Ajax Academy and son of Dutch legend Danny Blind, who played under Van Gaal at Ajax, Daley knows it all. A lack of understanding has been pinpointed as one reason why United have under performed thus far. But with the arrival of Blind the club have someone who will understand it from the get-go. In his role on the pitch he is likely to become the glue that holds together not just the play but also the others around him.
The manager is known for wanting players out on the pitch who share his values and there is no one currently at United closer than Daley Blind to epitomising Van Gaal’s ideals, except perhaps Van Persie. Wayne Rooney dons the captain’s armband at present but he is not without his detractors, should the Rooney-captaincy debate rage on, over the next 2 years it may not be a surprise to see someone else named Manchester United captain. Should Daley Blind develop into a tenacious and consistent midfield stalwart for Van Gaal it might not be a surprise to see him handed the responsibility at some point. All hypothetical of course but surely worth a punt.